Updated Sept. 1, 2023

The FAA recently announced it has a plan in place for business aircraft operators to participate in en route controller-pilot data link communications – or CPDLC – on a permanent basis. The announcement comes one month after NBAA, together with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, urged the agency to restore full availability of en route data link communications for all equipped general aviation aircraft.

“The FAA lines of business have come together and decided on a path forward, opening that en route environment to the broader industry,” said NBAA’s Senior Director, Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure Heidi Williams.

The FAA continues to work with the industry to broaden the participation of CPDLC en route and open the opportunity for business and general aviation to participate in the en route environment.  In August, the agency noted it anticipates opening en route datacomm beyond the existing trials that have been in place for several years.

The timeline for broadening participation is expected around the end of September.

Some equipped aircraft had been admitted in a trial phase, but last year the FAA put an indefinite hold on new entrants to the U.S. domestic en-route CPDLC trial due to the lack of clearly defined performance criteria.

Now, participation will be based on a green/yellow/red system. Aircraft with avionics that have demonstrated acceptable CPDLC performance will be placed in the “green” level.

Aircraft with avionics in the “yellow” level have completed interoperability and route loadability testing but have either not completed the minimum number of en route CPDLC transactions to demonstrate acceptable performance, or they have identified, non-safety-of-flight performance issues that will still allow continued participation in en route CPDLC pending a permanent fix.

All new entrant CPDLC aircraft will enter at the “yellow” level and remain there until actual CPDLC performance is found acceptable. Depending on performance, the aircraft could move up to “green” or down to “red.”

Finally, aircraft with critical CPDLC-related avionics issues, and aircraft with unacceptable air-to-ground en route CPDLC performance, will be in “red” level and excluded from en route CPDLC. However, they may still be allowed to participate in the datalink clearances program.

The FAA will provide a list on their website to help operators determine if their aircraft and avionics combination is acceptable.

CPDLC performance requirements are changing as en route CPDLC is deployed throughout the U.S. National Airspace System. Once fully deployed and the “acceptable” CPDLC performance requirements are completely understood, the defined performance criteria for long-term CPDLC participation will be published.

The FAA’s goal for completion of this phase is May 2025.

The FAA will need time to educate its inspector workforce, clarify LOA/MSpecs/OpSpecs A056 and C056 and make appropriate revisions to the Aeronautical Information Manual and other communications means.

“We are happy to see forward motion and look forward to the day we have defined performance criteria but at least until the FAA has now opened the doors to more aircraft,” said Williams. “NBAA has been a proponent of datacomm. Business aviation is equipped at a more rapid pace than the FAA expected so this segment of the industry is a bigger piece of the CPDLC program than the FAA originally envisioned.”